Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, February 15th, 2014

Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

West North
Both ♠ A Q 10 8 7
 A 9 2
♣ A K 9 5
West East
♠ 2
 K J 10 7 6 4 3
 Q 8 6
♣ 8 3
♠ 3
 Q 9 8 5
 10 7 5 3
♣ Q J 7 6
♠ K J 9 6 5 4
 K J 4
♣ 10 4 2
South West North East
3 Dbl. 4
4♠ Pass 4 NT Pass
5 Pass 5 Pass
6* Pass 6 Pass
6♠ All pass    

*Showing the trump queen and the diamond king


What makes a bridge deal challenging? It is hard to know — although as Judge Potter Stewart eloquently put it, although in a slightly different context, I know it when I see it.

In today’s deal, though the play is limited to just two suits, there are many plausible options, and only one plan that covers almost all the bases.

Against six spades, reached after a heart pre-empt from West, the lead is the heart king to the ace. Declarer now draws trump in one round. What next? Clearly, you should play on clubs, but do you cash one honor, or both? You then finesse in clubs, but do you lead out the 10 or up to the nine?

The correct answer is “None of the above.” Declarer should now play ace and a low club. When East wins, he now has to lead a diamond. Declarer can play low, and when West has to contribute the queen, declarer can claim the rest.

Assuming West started with seven hearts then, once spades are 1-1, this plan only loses when East has queen-jack-fourth or longer in clubs and West has Q-10-x or longer in diamonds — when no reasonable plan succeeds.

For example, if West wins a club honor and returns the suit, declarer goes up with dummy’s king. If West still has a club honor left, then he has only one diamond, so the diamond finesse is sure to win. If West has a doubleton club honor, he will be endplayed on winning his club trick.

This hand is a dead minimum for a splinter jump to four spades, showing the diamond fit and a singleton spade. You would certainly take this action if either of your queens were a king; but even as it is, the slight overbid is surely worthwhile to show the nature of your hand at one go.


♠ 3
 Q 9 8 5
 10 7 5 3
♣ Q J 7 6
South West North East
2♣ Pass
2 Pass 3 Pass

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Michael BeyroutiMarch 1st, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Dear Mr Wolff,
could you please provide an explanation of the auction in the AOB diagram. If 4NT is RKCB then 5D should show one key card, the king, in the 30-41 format. But then 5H cannot be asking for the queen, he has it. And 6D cannot be showing the queen, he doesn’t have it. I am curious as to what they really meant…
Nice hand. Very nice plan, well thought out. Tough to come up with at the table. Which brings us to the quotation: so appropriate!

Herreman RMarch 1st, 2014 at 2:32 pm


I would say that:
5H = “trump queen ? or maybe extra length ?”

jim2March 1st, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Michael –

What Herreman R said, but 5H might suggest all key cards accounted for as well as providing a way for the responder to show other extras (as happened in this case). A simpler way would be to bid 5N over the aces response, but may not be the only way.

Additionally, consider how the bidding might have been able to proceed with a negative trump queen response. That is, in their partnership, there might be a difference between these two auctions:

…. 4N
5D 5N

…. 4N
5D 5H
5S 5N

Michael BeyroutiMarch 1st, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Thanks guys. I was guessing that much about the undisclosed extra trump length. Which makes North’s 5H bid very clever. And 6H later on. He might have been angling for a grand slam.
I hope South played it as well as North bid it!

jim2March 1st, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Michael Beyrouti –

Also, do not overlook North’s 6H bid.

That is, North did NOT bid 6S but an intervening bid (between 6D and 6S). I am confident that it was an invitation to South to bid beyond 6S if South had another undisclosed extra. (and even implied that North had the KC, as North was NOT discouraged by South bidding 6D instead of 6C) South’s 6S thus meant nothing more to show. (The heart preempt and raise showed that the heart singleton was likely a duplication with North’s AH).

South might, for example, have had QJ of clubs instead of the JD.

bobby wolffMarch 1st, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Hi Michael, Herreman R, and Jim2,

Part of learning, or adding already to significant knowledge about the high-level game, should be taken as different steps in moving up the ladder of success and (thoroughly understanding) what is trying to be accomplished. What R. and Jim2 have answered is right on target, “extra length” (6 cards) which probably renders not having the spade queen (likely the eventual trump suit, but many times important, even if that suit turns out not to be trump), moot.

Also the concept which Jim2 brought up, when in the 2 examples of eventually bidding 5NT (first with an extra round of bidding which started out as affirming the trump queen and then the second which denied it, but still a grand slam effort, 5NT, continued announcing to partner (at that juncture) that “don’t worry about not having it, I’ve got you (I think) covered”.

Improving in the technology of bridge is multifaceted, with many different angles to be tested. No doubt, no where near the best bridge player to ever live has even been close to having been born yet, and unless the USA can get bridge into our early school system our country will fall much further back in producing current stars. And furthermore, even if we eventually succeed in that necessary task, we will have years to go before we recover our previous status, and thus “miles to go before we sleep” zzz…

Peter PengMarch 2nd, 2014 at 1:21 am

Wow – East got end-played in the third round of play. That is unusual…. I think a bridge hand is challenging when there are moves and counter-moves by both declarer and defense. Defensive problems are more challenging, because you cannot see your partner’s hand…

Peter PengMarch 2nd, 2014 at 1:33 am

dear Mr. Wolff

here is a challenging defense situation my opponent faced last Wednesday.

EW vul

She (West) held S-KJT73, H- void, D-Axx, C-975xx
North dealt and bid 1D, E bid 1H, I bid 1S, pass, partner bid 2S, then 3H by E, 3S by me.

What would you bid with the West hand? She doubled. Not unreasonable, as she has probably more spades than anybody else, and good spades, the top diamond and her partner has at least a few tricks. If she can get to the East hand, she can get discards and ruffs on partner’s hearts.
Also, she does not want East to bid 4H vulnerable.

Do you choose to defend or to declare?

What would you lead?

In another post I will give the other hands.

Peter PengMarch 2nd, 2014 at 4:26 am

North hand

S – Q842
H- Q943
D – KQ43
C- K


S- void
H – AKJT872
D- 10765


H- 65
D- J9
C- AT832

this completes the deal

bobby wolffMarch 2nd, 2014 at 5:52 am

Hi Peter,

I confess I would double with the West hand, and then decide whether to lead a club or an imaginative trump, probably the jack but even maybe the King. If I lead the jack and the declarer, possibly fearing the singleton king with East might duck it around to his ace and then when declarer wins the ace and leads a diamond, I should duck and then when I next take the diamond jack with the ace, lead king and another trump I think the defense will triumph, but I may be proved wrong.

It does happen more than any of us realize when we think we have such a good penalty double sometimes the timing and specific cards are located perfectly for the declarer, making large potential sets much less, even an occasional make.

Let us all know the result once you have time to write next.

Peter PengMarch 2nd, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Dear Mr. Wolf

West let the Ace of Diamonds to “look at dummy” and see how to get to East’s hand.
Even after that she had a chance.
It seemed then that the best chance was in clubs. Her partner could have the A.

I won, noticing the fall of a honor on my right, and played a trump, revealing the bad break. I won the Ace and played Ace of clubs, felling the J and the J of diamond, ruffed a club. Then I played two good diamonds, discarding my hearts.

At this point West went wrong, roughing and pulling trumps, playing K and small.

I won the Q (last trump in dummy) and played a heart, ruffing, West overruffed and was then end-played in clubs, with my T8 over her 97 whether she pulls my last trump or not.

However, if she finds discards instead of ruffing, she gives me a chance to go wrong, and there are finishes where I could end up end-played instead of her.

Without the diamond lead, I have to find the second round diamond finesse of the 10.

bobby wolffMarch 3rd, 2014 at 12:45 am

Wow Peter,

Remind me to wait for a better trump holding before I ever double you.

I have no doubt that without that ace of diamonds lead you would have finessed the 9 of diamonds, but you can be sure if I was West, I would have stolen the 10 of diamonds from my partner’s hand, if only to ward off the gremlins who would be laughing at me for allowing you to be doubled into game and make it.